For starters, here is a handy list which could be called the "Ten Commandments
- Go to bed and get up at the same time every day.
- Make sure your sleep environment is as comfortable as possible.
- Keep your bedroom as dark and as quiet as possible.
- Avoid caffeine -- in coffee, tea and soft drinks -- in the evening.
- Don't drink alcohol or smoke before going to bed.
- Get some exercise every day -- but not in the late evening.
- Don't nap in the daytime.
- Develop a sleep ritual -- a nightly routine that eases you down from
the day's activity.
- Use your bedroom for sleeping instead of working, worrying or watching
- If you can't sleep, get out of bed and do something relaxing, like reading,
deep breathing or yoga.
A recent onset of insomnia is usually related to a current problem such
as health concerns, marital troubles, dilemmas at work, etc., and as such
usually last less than three weeks. If no such mental/emotional reason can
be uncovered, then physical causes should be investigated. It is important
to "rule out" obvious causes of insomnia such as anemia, hypertension
(high blood pressure) or prescription drugs. Insomnia that does not respondto simple measures is often due to an emotional upset, especially depression.
The results of prolonged insomnia can be very discomforting: chronic fatigue;
anxiety about sleeping; lack of concentration, etc. The conventional treatment
is sedative hypnotics if over-the-counter (OTC) drugs fail to help.
Can I Use Physical Medicine to Treat insomnia?
If there is any panacea (cure-all) in medicine it must be a clean diet and
regular aerobic exercise that makes you happy. Treating insomnia is no
different. Regular aerobic exercise that you enjoy is crucial to getting
a good night's sleep, every night, without fail. Find an exercise buddy
in your neighborhood and make a pact to exercise together 3 or 4 times weekly,
doing something you both enjoy like briskly walking for an hour, playing
tennis, joining a water aerobics class, whatever. Just do it!
You can also make a habit of taking a NEUTRAL temperature bath before bed.
This is about body temperature. Both cool and hot baths are too stimulating
to both nervous and vascular systems to be of use in insomnia before bed.
Some people find it helpful to use a cupful of 3% hydrogen peroxide in
the neutral bath water. You can also give yourself a deep foot massage,
especially concentrating on the soles of the feet, while in the bath, or
just before turning out the light.
What about Botanical Medicine to help with sleep?
Herbal medicine has a long tradition of being able to induce peaceful sleep.
A word of caution, however. Many of the botanicals listed below affect
the central nervous system, and must be taken with the supervision of a
qualified herbalist or naturopathic physician. Please consult with one
of these health care professionals to determine the correct dose and form
of the potential toxic herbs.
- Anenome pulsatilla (Wind, or Pasque, flower -- can be toxic)
- Avena sativa (Oat straw). Yes, this is the familiar kitchen item
frequently eaten as oatmeal. In fact, oats are one of the most universally
used medicinal foods to soothe the nerves. You may want to eat your oats
in the evening instead of breakfast, but not too close to bedtime, to ensure
a restful sleep. No food should be taken closer than 2 hours to bedtime
to make sure your digestive workings don't keep you awake. Oats may be
used as a soothing bath: put a handful in an old sock and let the bath water
run through the sock so the bath water becomes slightly slimy. Bathe in
this gentle brew to allow the mildly sedative qualities to seep in through
your skin. You could also take oats in a tincture form, using frequent
doses at short intervals beginning after dinner.
- Matricaria recucita (German chamomile, or any chamomile species)
for sleep disturbed by anxiety or irritability. This herb is especially
good for children. Take note: if you are using the chamomile in a tea (infusion)
form, don't let it steep more than 3-5 minutes. A strong chamomile tea
can actually be mildly stimulating.
- Gelsemium sempervirens (Yellow Jasmine, can be toxic)
- Humulus lupulus: (Hops, a popular flavoring for beer) can allay irritation
or anxiety, thus promoting sleep. This doesn't necessarily endorse beer
drinking! A better approach would be to rest your head at night on a pillow
filled with dried hops leaves.
- Hyoscyamus niger (Henbane, may be toxic) works well for insomnia
due to irritability, unrest, fright, or terror. This herb has the power
to subdue excitement and induce sleep, especially in sleeplessness due to
pain. Great for both the aged and infants.
- Lavendula officinalis (Lavender flowers) works primarily through
the sense of smell. It is extremely soothing to simply sniff a small opened
bottle of the volatile oil made from these redolent blossoms. Many health
food stores will carry some brand of Lavender oil. Keep it next to your
bed or add a few drops to the bath water before retiring.
- Leonurus cardiaca (Motherwort) is particularly useful for lack of
sleep due to heart problems, including a "broken heart." This
herb is known traditionally to "gladden the heart."
- Melissa officinalis: (Lemon Balm). This tasty plant can soothe a
nervous heart or a nervous stomach and therefore aid in insomnia which presents
as difficulty falling asleep.
- Nepeta cataria (Catnip). It works for humans too!
- Passiflora incarnata: (Passion flower) is a relaxing nervine, indicated
for sleep disturbed from mental worries or anxiety, and for geriatric cases
where the insomnia is due to fear.
- Piscidia erythrina (Jamaican dogwood, can be toxic in somewhat high
doses). This plant was originally used to mildly "stun" fish in
a pond to make them easier to catch. It is great as a gentle pain reliever
and for general nervousness.
- Scutellaria lateriflora: (Skullcap) is another sweet tasting herb
to help alleviate nightmares or restless sleep. Combines well with Passiflora
- Valeriana spp. (Valerian) has an active ingredient from which the
medication Valium was first derived. It can both relax and stimulate the
central nervous system. Don't use this botanical for more than 3 weeks
at a time. It combines well with Hops.
A lovely mixture for a herbal night pillow is Oregano, Thyme, Lavender flowers,
Valerian root and Hops leaves. If there is an herbalist near you can ask
them to make this up for you, or ask your doctor for a referral to an herbal
supply company. A mugwort leaf pillow is said to make for happy dreams.
Another great way to take sleep-inducing plants is in the form of a cup
of tea before bed. An excellent sedative tea contains a mixture of Valerian
root, Lemon Balm leaves, Hops leaves in equal part. Use 1-2 tsp. to 1 cup
boiling water. Infuse at least 15 minutes and drink 1 cup before retiring.
Use regularly over a period of time.
Another sedative tea formula contains:
Angelica root, 20 g.
Rosemary leaf, 10 g.
Lemon balm leaf, 30 g.
Lavender flower, 10 g.
Hops leaves, 20 g.
Yarrow flowers, 10 g.
1-2 tsp. to 1 cup boiling water. Infuse. Drink 1-2 cups before going to
bed. Use regularly over a period of time.
Can my diet effect getting a good night's sleep?
It certainly can. There is one amino acid (from protein breakdown) that
is a potent biochemical inducer of serotonin, the major sleep neurohormone.
This amino acid is Tryptophan. Tryptophan is high in turkey meat, eggs,
fish, dairy products, bananas, pineapples, whole wheat toast and walnuts.
If you decide to supplement with Tryptophan: make sure to also take the
cofactors which will facilitate the conversion to serotonin. These are
Vitamins B3, B6, and C.
Other therapeutic food suggestions include:
If you are inclined to make fresh juices, the following combinations are
said to help induce deeper sleep:
- increase foods high in Vitamin C (all tart fruits, dark leafy greens
and red peppers) and Vitamin B-complex such as Brewer's yeast.
- Traditional Chinese Medicine food recommendations for deeper sleep
include chicken, duck, oysters, celery, sesame seeds, and walnuts.
Naturally, there are food to avoid because they are stimulants. This is
especially true in the afternoon and evening. These foods are:
- lettuce and celery
- carrot and spinach
- carrot and celery
· meat, alcohol, hot sauces, spicy foods, fried foods, fatty foods,
rich foods, salty foods, coffee, caffeine, sweet foods and sugar.
Sometimes food alone is not enough to get out of your restless sleep cycle.
The following supplements have been shown to be effective in treating insomnia,
but please consult with a qualified healthcare professional before experimenting.
- myo-inositol (a high quality fat, usually derived from soy bean)
500 mg daily
- niacinamide (buffered Vitamin B3) 1000 mg at bedtime (if you can
fall asleep readily but cannot return to sleep after waking)
- L-Tryptophan 1-4 g 30-45 minutes before bedtime with carbohydrates,
- Calcium 500 mg before bedtime
- Avoid B-complex after 5 PM, especially B6 which is known to cause
- Vitamin B12 injected intra-muscularly (IM) 2 cc weekly until your
deep sleep is restored. This can be administered at home, but get your
doctor to show you or your spouse the correct injection technique.
How can Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) help with insomnia?
Insomnia is not really a "disease" but a symptom of in imbalance
in your physical, mental or emotional body. The TCM approach is to find
your constitutional diagnosis, by looking at your tongue, feeling your pulses,
asking lots of questions then determining where the vital force (Qi) has
become stagnant. Insomnia can be due to a very large number of imbalances,
one of the most common being "Disharmony between the Heart and the
Kidneys." The Heart, in Chinese medicine, is not only a cardiovascular
pump, but the "house" of the "Spirit." The Kidneys
are the producers of Yin and Yang, as well as controlling the production
of blood, hormones and brain tissue. Based on your TCM diagnosis, the acupuncturist
or Oriental Medical doctor may wish to prescribe an herbal or patent medicine
formulation to help you sleep better. The following incomplete list will
give you an idea of what there is to chose from:
- Corydalis Yanhusus Analgesic Tablets (patent) for insomnia due to
- Ginseng and Longan C. (Gui Pi Tang) (available as patent)
- Bai Zi Yang Xin Wan (patent) for Heart Blood Deficiency with Spleen
Qi Deficiency) for poor appetite and memory, pale face, anemia
- Miao Xiang San, a patent combination, for Heart Qi Deficiency with
symptoms of forgetfulness, spontaneous sweating, anxiety, restlessness
- Ginseng and Zizyphus F. (Tian Wang Bu Xin Dan)
- An Mian Pian (patent): Heart Yin Xu (Deficiency) for exhaustion due
to excessive mental work; tossing and turning; also for patients on tranquilizers
or sleeping pills for so long that they no longer have an effect
- Coptis and Gelatin C. plus cinnamon bark (rou gui) (Huang Lian E
Jiao Tang): Kidney and Heart Not Communicating: strong patient, so irritable
they cannot even lie down in bed, dizziness, tinnitus
- Baked Licorice C. (Zhi Gan Cao Tang) minus linum (huo ma ren) plus
zizyphus (suan zao ren) for Qi Deficiency with Blood Deficiency for slow,
irregular or thin pulse, palpitations, shortness of breath, emaciation,
dry mouth and throat, pale shiny tongue
- Licorice and Jujube C. (Gan Mai Da Zao Tang) for "Shen"
(Spirit) Disturbance, which presents as absentmindedness, moodiness, crying
spells, restless sleep
- Ci Zhu Wan (patent): Kidney and Heart not Communicating.
About The Author
A graduate of Bastyr University in Seattle, she completed both the Naturopathic and Acupuncture/Oriental Medicine programs. Her preceptor work (similar to residencies) took place in Seattle, West Virginia and China, with emphasis on gynecology, counseling, herbal medicine and naturopathic manipulation...more